Ambitions of a dead empire

15:17 19.09.2022 • Alexander Sheffner , expert of International institute for Political Information

It is customary for the Western media to accuse Russia of imperial ambitions. In fact, the Kremlin is trying to create its own sphere of influence in Europe, defending the rights of Russian speakers and its economic interests from the standpoint of a great power. Obviously, this is precisely what makes the United Kingdom so jittery, causing bouts of envy among the British political establishment. Just as the Windsor Court buries the last symbol of the British Empire - Queen Elizabeth, the government of Liz Truss follows in the footsteps of her predecessor - Boris Johnson. It’s foreign policy  runs counter to the real interests of London or a united Europe, but it can be described as "imperial." Has Britain’s political elite decided to be nostalgic? Or simply forget the lessons of history?

By 1914, the British Empire "on which the sun never sets" had every reason to be called a global superpower. However, the intrigues of London, which failed to provide clear-cut  security guarantees to France and Belgium, led to the First World War, during which the “victorious” Great Britain suffered huge human and financial losses, which could hardly be compensated by the acquisition of a couple of insignificant colonies in Africa. At the same time, London’s glorious "imperial policy" allowed Germany to recover from defeat in just 20 years and all but bring Britain down to its knees. The British Empire with its colonies emerged from the Second World War having lost its former status of a world power. The Americans demanded decolonization, and Indians and Malays demanded independence. "I don't want to preside over the liquidation of the British Empire," Winston Churchill said when leaving the prime minister's post for the last time.

However, the status of a permanent member of the UN Security Council, a small nuclear arsenal and a nuclear submarine fleet, as well as the "British Commonwealth" - a plethora of former colonies and dominions, allowed  Britain to keep playing the role of a Great Power throughout the Cold War years. True, the rules of this game were now set by Washington, which took control of both the economy and the defense of Europe. By the start of the 1980s, unsuccessful attempts at social reforms necessitated tough reforms by Margaret Thatcher, which freed Britain from the illusions of state capitalism. By the way, it was the Iron Lady, who let Britons feel like residents of the Great Empire for the last time. In 1982, the British Navy (with plans for its reduction already in the pipeline), recaptured from Argentina the Falkland Islands, a British colony lost in the South Atlantic.

As a result, the United Kingdom approached the third decade of the 21st  century, trailing behind the world’s 10 leading countries in terms of GDP, claiming a special role for itself in the international economy and politics. At the same time, London, which has been trying for decades to force the EU to recognize its special role in a united Europe, eventually left the EU, launching a lengthy divorce with Brussels. Economically, the UK relies heavily on its traditional financial sector - banking and brokerage services, insurance, consulting, etc. However, 75 years after the Yalta Conference and  the collapse of its empire, London is still not ready to admit that it is just one among equal European powers - France, Italy, Spain and Germany. London has no real colonial interests that it can use to underpin its intrigues. Ukraine, whose conflict with Russia has been patiently nurtured since 2013 by US strategists at the State Department, will not bring Britain a penny of profit.

However, since the 1950s, London has mastered the role of "Washington's junior partner," which implies a bigger role in NATO and exclusivity towards Europeans. Decades later, Liz Truss continues to play this very card in Ukraine, just as Boris Jonson did before her. Britain has assumed an extremely tough anti-Russian position, not bothering to see into the causes of the war, or think about its own interests. It support a president who banned the official use of his country's most widely spoken minority language, who sanctioned the torture of prisoners and persecution of ethnic minorities, A president whom Britain supplies with weapons and military instructors, and writes off debts. Taking a cue from the Johnson Cabinet, Liz Truss will try to convince Britons that since the struggle for England and its age-old imperial interests is now going on in the Ukrainian steppes, the British people must prepare for hardships – heating problems, rising tariffs, inflation and increased defense outlays. At the same time, the conflict in Ukraine will give London a chance to put a temporary damper on such controversial issues with Europe, as fishing quotas, relations with the EU in Northern Ireland, the situation around the economic status of Gibraltar, etc.

Meanwhile, the Russian market is closed to Western countries, the Russians turned to the East, where they quickly redirected the flow of raw materials supplies. Western arms deliveries to Ukraine allow Kyiv to fight on, but the Ukrainian economy is no longer able to support the very existence of the Ukrainian state, which requires monthly financial infusions from its Western allies. British mercenaries captured in Ukraine are tried and sentenced to death in the Donbass republics, and London cannot do anything to get them out. Of course, already the second British government in six months cannot be accused of  waging a proxy war against Russia, which is a time-tested way to weakening the enemy. But is Russia weakening? And how will the British gain from this war? Will Ukraine ever be able to repay all the investments that London has sunk in it since February 2022?

Perhaps, London’s long-term strategy is to create a buffer against Russia in the East in order to end Europe’s dependence on Russian oil and gas, as well as Russian fertilizers, grain and food. And, after going through several difficult years, to create the “green economy” that the Western countries dream of? Extremely radical as this idea may look, it is at least justified! What is more likely, however, is that London has simply become confused in its ambitions and the clichés about the “Russian threat” that generations of British politicians were weaned on. And these ambitions are pushing the whole of Europe to war...